Devastating scenes as 145 whales die in New Zealand beach

Up to 145 pilot whales stranded and died on a remote beach on Rakiura  Stewart Island during the weekend of 24-25 November 2018

145 pilot whales die in mass stranding in New Zealand

Authorities have euthanized dozens of pilot whales after a group of 145 were stranded and left dead or dying on a New Zealand beach.

According to a Department of Conservation (DOC) spokeswoman, the whales were discovered by walkers late Saturday, scattered along the beach of Mason Bay.

More than 650 pilot whales beached themselves along Farewell Spit at top of South Island in two separate mass strandings past year, the largest of its kind in New Zealand for nearly a century.

As many as 145 of the marine mammals - which, contrary to their name, are technically classified as dolphins - were found stranded along Mason Bay, two pods strewn across the sands just over a mile apart.

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"Sadly, the likelihood of being able to successfully re-float the remaining whales was extremely low", DOC Raikura operations manager Ren Leppens said.

The "heart-breaking" decision to euthanise around 70 pilot whales on Stewart Island at the weekend was "not taken lightly", Department of Conservation (Doc) staff say.

Whale strandings are quite common in New Zealand and the Department of Conservation responds to around 85 of them every year.

Two sperm whales, including one female pygmy, also died over the weekend in separate incidents.

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On Sunday, 10 pygmy killer whales were found stranded on Ninety Mile Beach, in the country's North Island. Rescuers were unable to save two of them, but said they hope to re-float the remaining whales on Tuesday.

Stewart Island, also know as Rakiura, is home to around 380 people. The particular geography of the spit, which had shallow beach shelves, confused the whales.

Due to the condition of the remaining whales and the hard to access location, the decision was made to euthanise the remainder.

DOC has notified local Ngāi Tahu iwi and is working together on next steps. The largest recorded whale stranding in New Zealand's history occurred on the Chatham Islands in 1918, when around 1,000 pilot whales came ashore, according to The Guardian. It's believed strandings can be caused by a number of factors, such as the whales trying to escape predators, falling ill, or navigating incorrectly.

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